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What is Social Work?

U N E MSW students collage

The Bachelor of Social Work (B.S.W.) program at the University of New England prepares you with skills for generalist, broad, entry-level social work practice in a wide and varied range of social service, health, mental health and community-based settings. As a social worker, you will have opportunities to touch the lives of people across their lifespans—from newborns to elders and their families. You'll graduate with the knowledge and skills to enhance the wellbeing of all people and to secure resources to assure that basic human needs are met. 

How does Social Work compare to:




Psychology: Study of behavior and mental processes; application of the knowledge to the evaluation and treatment of mental disorder.

  • Psychotherapists
  • Psychologist (Psy.D. or Ph.D. doctoral preparation)
  • Psychiatrists (M.D.; physicians with an advanced specialty)
  • Is a practice profession
  • Can conduct psychotherapy with an advanced degree
  • Works in some of the same settings, with many of the same clients
  • Requires Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree for clinical practice
  • Administers psychological tests
  • In some states, is allowed to prescribe medications
  • M.D. training/degree is required for psychiatrists
  • Requires 2 years vs. 1 year of graduate social work courses to receive a M.S.W.

Counseling: Practice of meeting with, listening to, and guiding individuals and groups with mental health, social adjustment, and relationship problems.

  • Therapists
  • Marriage counselors
  • Family therapists
  • Is a practice profession
  • Can engage in clinical counseling with a graduate degree
  • Is not allowed to prescribe medications
  • Works in some of the same settings, with many of the same clients
  • Focuses mostly on the individual as a problem requiring assessment and intervention
  • Is not typically trained in community practice (advocacy, organizing)
  • Requires a graduate degree for practice

Sociology: Study of characteristics and interactions and populations

  • Sociologists
  • Studies patterns of human behavior, especially origins of that behavior and societal development
  • Shares interests in human diversity and oppression
  • Is a social science, not a profession or practice
  • Examines people’s patterns and community’s contexts

Nursing: Practice of caring for the physical and mental health of individuals, families, and communities to optimize quality of life

  • Nurses (B.S.N., M.S.N., D.N.P.)
  • Is a practice profession
  • Has a caring/helping focus
  • Is practiced in hospitals, clinics, and other health care settings
  • Offers RN and LPN designations denoting responsibilities and authority
  • Health sciences are the focus of this degree

Criminal Justice: Practice of facilitating law enforcements, operating the court system, and investigating and preventing criminal behavior

  • Police
  • Correctional Officers
  • Has a practice orientation
  • Works in some of the same settings, with many of the same clients
  • Shares concerns about individuals and families
  • Requires a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or human services
  • Focuses on law and social order
  • Supports authority and social order
  • Limited focus on the individuals environment

Public Health: Practice of researching epidemiological and environmental health trends and protecting the health of populations

  • Public health clinicians
  • Human service workers
  • Has a practice orientation
  • Focuses on groups and communities
  • Practices in health clinics and community-based settings
  • Requires a B.S. in public health
  • Requires training in epidemiology, biostatistics, and health policy and administration
  • Focuses on health and the physical environment